Sanjay Raut’s stout defence puts ED in a spot

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut’s arrest by the Enforcement Directorate has raised eyebrows because the evidence against him seems flimsy

(Udhav Thackeray visits Sanjay Raut’s family after his arrest)
(Udhav Thackeray visits Sanjay Raut’s family after his arrest)

Sujata Anandan

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut’s arrest by the Enforcement Directorate has raised eyebrows because the evidence against him seems flimsy.

The Rs 11.5 lakh cash found at his residence comprised a bundle of Rs 10 lakh, claimed to be party funds and had present Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s name written on it with ‘Ayodhya’ inscribed below his name. The remaining one and a half lakh are accounted for as funds set aside for repairs and renovation of his house.

The sum of Rs 55 lakh said to have been borrowed by his wife allegedly from the wife of an accused in the Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank scam has long been returned through legitimate earnings from her production of a film on Bal Thackeray that did reasonably well on the box office.

The Patra Chawl redevelopment scam wherein Raut is accused of influencing builders is indeed a delayed redevelopment scheme; but there seems nothing on record to indicate that he had in any way caused the project delays or benefitted from the nine builders engaged in redeveloping the scheme. And now, it seems, his assets show little more than what he has already declared in his electoral affidavit over the years.

And the Swapna Patkar case? Well, the audio tape on which the complaint has been made does not establish that the man threatening her is Raut, and this only adds credence to speculation that in the absence of evidence, the agencies are cooking up charges against Raut –and bullying flower sellers, caterers, decorators and others who had provided their services at his daughter’s wedding.

Add to that Raut’s fearless and uncompromising response to his arrest by the ED, which has breathed new life into the Shiv Sena, leaving the rebels looking sheepish and weak, a lot who caved in without even a semblance of a fightback.

The ED took almost the whole day to search Raut’s premises before arresting him. Word had gone around that the agency’s handlers were waiting to see if the threat of imminent arrest of a close confidante would bring around Uddhav Thackeray for a compromise with them. However, Raut’s spirited defiance during his arrest, Uddhav Thackeray’s subsequent visit the next day to Raut’s home, his press conference in support of his righthand man and the surge of grassroots support in favour of Aaditya Thackeray--who was on the second leg of his Shiv Samvad Yatra-- indicate that developments are not quite following the BJP’s script.

When they targeted Shiv Sena and engineered a split in the legislature party, they had hoped that Uddhav Thackeray would react out of pique and expel the rebels. Legally, this would have been ideal. The rebels could either have merged with the BJP or maintained themselves as a separate group in the assembly if they wished, being under no compulsion to resign or recontest their seats.

Devendra Fadnavis could then have been sworn in as the chief minister and spared the embarrassment of playing second fiddle to someone unable to even hold his own with bureaucrats and the media.

However, Uddhav instead sought a reconciliation and a one-to-one chat and only later moved for the disqualification of the rebels. That has tied them up in knots in courts and with no induction of ministers, they seem to have fallen between two stools.

A sort of restlessness seems to have entered the rebels’ ranks who are watching with anxiousness the growing support for Uddhav Thackeray even among non-Shiv Sena voters in the state.

There are those who believe Raut’s arrest will weaken Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray, who are not as pugnacious as Raut in taking on rivals. But there are others who believe he should use the opportunity to appoint another spokesperson who will be less aggressive than Raut and more understated in his responses.

But another spokesperson can scarcely replace Sanjay Raut who brought a certain belligerence to the party in the spirit of Bal Thackeray which is what Shiv Sainiks have been missing since the Sena founder passed away. Many of them, though continuing to support Uddhav, are unhappy that he has not allowed them to hit the streets.

But then Uddhav Thackeray must be realising that violence would merely get his supporters locked up without resort to bail and he could also lose the support of those who laud him for his restraint. That is why Raut is so important with his verbal militancy and unapologetic aggression that does not descend to the realm of physical violence that has put off even many middle class Maharashtrians in the past.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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